Tag: Penguins

Flat Stanley Rides a REMUS in Antarctica

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09uzDjDOmjo

Flat Stanley joined researchers at Palmer Station in Antarctica in search of penguins and environmental data about their feeding grounds in January.  This video showcases just how awesome this icon of international literacy and community can be. Armed with only a minimal amount of training, Flat Stanley managed to pilot a REMUS Autonomous Underwater Vehicle in a precision pattern through the frigid waters off the West Antarctic Peninsula  — gathering vital information that will allow scientists to understand the feeding habits of Antarctic penguin species.

You can see a map about the many locations this worldly traveler has gone and find out more about the Flat Stanley Project on their website. Many thanks to student travel coordinators at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, CA for helping Flat Stanley make his way this far south.

Awesome job Stanley!

Trip to Penguin Colony on Biscoe Point

Folks seem to like penguins….so much so that we even made the front page of the University of Delaware website! Hurray! This shot is of the Adélie penguin colony on Humble Island. We had just deployed a satellite transmitter on one of the birds so we would know where to send the underwater robots (Gliders and REMUS’s).

University of Delaware Main Page

Remnants of the storm remain in the area and wind gusts are keeping the science boats at station today. Nevertheless, we did have a break in the clouds and the sun came out. The warm sun made the Gamage glacier very active and I happened to get a great video of calving. Right place, right time.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vANNYwc2d_k

We headed out to Biscoe Point to deploy another satellite transmitter on a penguin. The plan was remove the transmitter from a Gentoo penguin which had been at Biscoe Point since mid-night. The challenge is to find the tagged bird amongst the rest! On the way, a large amount of brash ice had surrounded Biscoe Point, so we had 1-2km if slow travel through the ice. Marc Travers (our boat driver and expert birder) did an excellent job snaking in between the large chunks. Outboard motors and large chunks of brash ice don’t mix well. Hitting a large piece of ice can leave you on a boat with a busted motor. That is why we carry an extra motor in every boat.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URLwiXtnZk0

When we arrived at Biscoe Pt. we found that an Elephant Seal had climbed into one of the Gentoo Penguin nesting areas. If the penguin chicks are too young or unguarded by its parents, they can be easily crushed by these massive seals.

Southern Elephant Seal in Gentoo Penguin Colony overshadowed by Mt. William

Luckily it looked like the Gentoo chicks were old enough to avoid it. Occasionally a Gentoo adult would peck at the Elephant Seal’s thick blubber, but the giant beast didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all.  We made our way around the Gentoo colony looking for our tagged bird. She happened to be perched right on a rock preening herself where we could see her plain as day. The birders quickly removed the tag and she went back to her nest.

Penguin Chick Eaten by Skua Birds

Elephant Seals aside, the biggest threat to the chicks are Skua’s. These are aggressive scavenger birds swoop down and grab chicks right from their nests and make a meal out of them. There was plenty of evidence at Biscoe Pt. that the Skua birds had been active here.

Still, even with the ever present Skua, there were plenty of Gentoo chicks that were starting to look more and more like their parents. They are are starting to get their adult feathers. Their feathers are not waterproof yet, but they will be soon.

Gentoo Chick with Parent at Biscoe Pt.

The next step was downloading the dive information from the tag. This data will help us understand how deep the penguins are feeding. The dive data will help us properly analyze the data coming from the underwater Gliders and REMUS vehicles. The Birders are able to download and ready the tag for its next deployment in just a few minutes with a laptop computer in the field. These are amazing little tags.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-lLPVhjnMY

We walked around a small bay to the neighboring Adélie Penguin colony and were able to quickly identify an Adélie penguin that would be good for carrying our satellite

Adélie Penguin packed with a satellite transmitter.

transmitter. She was quickly tagged and released back to her nest. Her two grey puffy  chicks are just to her right. We will be watching the satellite data closely to find out where she is eating. Then, we will send our underwater robots to sample that section of ocean.  In a few days the Birders will head to Biscoe Pt. again to retrieve the tag, and thank her for her contribution to science.

Penguins from Space


The West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, with a 6°C temperature rise since 1950.  Glaciers are retreating and the duration and extent of sea ice has significantly decreased. Many species rely on the sea ice as a resting platform, breeding ground, protective barrier or have life histories linked to sea ice thaw and melt cycles. With the declines in sea ice, many species are having a difficult time surviving and adapting to the new warming conditions.

The food web along the WAP is short and allows energy to be transferred efficiently. Phytoplankton (tiny plants that capture energy from the sun) are ingested by zooplankton (such as krill) which are in turn eaten by penguins, seals and whales. Due to the rapid nature of the warming around Palmer Station and the short food chain, it is an ideal location to study the effects of the acute changes in a warming environment.

Palmer Station, Antarctica

In particular, Adélie penguins are experiencing significant population declines near Palmer Station, Antarctica.  On Anvers Island, populations have decreased by 70%. Declines in sea ice have also led to declines in the preferred food of Adélies.  Silverfish have nearly disappeared and krill have decreased by 80%. Currently, Adélies are having a difficult time finding a satisfying meal. In turn, many species are migrating southward to look for new places to live and better food resources. On the other hand, ice-avoiding species (Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins) have been able to move south into the Adélies home range.

Adélies are a prime vertebrate species to study in relation to a changing environment.  Tagging Adélies in summer breeding colonies with satellite-linked transmitters, allow foraging locations to be monitored. Their foraging tracks can be compared to satellite derived oceanic properties such as sea surface temperature, chlorophyll, sea-ice, and wind. Since conditions have changed so quickly over the last few decades, the recent development of satellites can easily detect these changes. The UD-134 Slocum Glider (underwater robot) will be deployed in January 2011 and 2012, to do additional surveys near breeding hotspots.  This will allow us to combine satellite data with high resolution in-situ glider data to predict how ideal foraging locations for Adélies may change as warming continues. This will also test the satellites ability to accurately describe ecological changes that are occurring along the WAP.

Adélie Penguin

The Palmer Long Term Ecological Research Program (PAL LTER) began in 1990, and investigates aspects of this polar environment while maintaining historical records for marine species.  Historical satellite data and species records will be useful in predicting phytoplankton, krill and penguin abundances and distributions.  Models will be used to predict future foraging locations of Adélies in PAL LTER region of the WAP. It is important to study this region because changes are happening faster than predicted and these changes can lead to dramatic effects in our lifetimes.

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